Archivist Spotlight: Bianca Burnette
As is always the case with horror related media there's research to be done to get to the bottom of the supernatural or the murderous intent of the antagonist. How do you justify the existence of the threat outside of the obvious villain label? How can you show your heroes being active agents while also providing exposition to the audience? Hence why there's typically a research scene or some sort of montage that indicates information has been gained in most horror and fantasy properties.
Whether or not the research scene involves someone in the knowledge and information profession depends on the creators. Nine times out of ten, you never see a librarian or an archivist present as the protagonist randomly wanders around the space until they stumble upon the answer instead of, I don't know, asking a professional for some help. But even if that tenth time features an archivist, it's fifty-fifty on whether they're a help or a hindrance.
In the case of Bianca Burnette (Carrie Fisher) in Scream 3, it's a little of both.
The Scream franchise is uneven in it's satirization of the horror genre, but it's an excellent time capsule of late 90s and early 2000s meta-narratives in film and television. Scream 3 was, at the time, the culmination of a trilogy that not only lampshaded itself but used its self-awareness as a tool to catch audiences off guard.
To summarize the overall plot: Scream 3 sees the remaining survivors of the Woodsboro killings reunite on the set of Stab 3, the in-universe horror franchise based on the events of the first two Scream movies, to stop yet another Ghostface killer as he murders his way through the cast and crew of the movie. As his obsession with Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) reaches a sadistic peak, all clues lead back to a connection between Sydney's mother and the unforgiving Hollywood machine.
The fact-finding portion of the movie naturally falls on Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), the sensationalist reporter turned best-selling author who gains a shadow in Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), the actress portraying her in the Stab films and who also happens to be dating her ex, Dewey Riley (David Arquette). And while Gale's instincts for avenues of information are spot-on, Jennifer proves to be a useful shadow with her knowledge about how Hollywood works and getting around the more off limits areas of the studio. One of those off limits areas is the studio archives.
Not for nothing, but I appreciate the hours of operation sign in the window. Some movies and tv shows seem to think archives and libraries are open 24/7 for no other reason than they want a cool nighttime shot with the low lighting regardless of the overtime people working at the facility would be putting in to make sure the researcher wasn't doing anything shady.
With a killer on the loose, and one who's targeting people specifically involved in the creation of Stab 3, it's understandable that Jennifer Jolie is on edge. So having her and Gale descend into the "creepy" basement archives as a means of amping up the tension makes sense even if it plays into the stereotype.
Once the two get to the bottom of the stairs, we see chainlink fencing cordoning off filing cabinets and film canisters as well as boxes and film canisters lining the hallway. When they hear a faint cough the two follow it to the desk of one Bianca Burnette.
Now, I can only assume Bianca is the Sunrise Studio archivist because the film doesn't specify her title nor do we see a little placard with her name and title on the desk. It's all based on context clues but I think it's safe to say she's the one and only archivist on staff. We do get a gag about how she has an uncanny resemblance to Carrie Fisher!
Fun fact: Carrie Fisher, a brilliant writer and script doctor, re-wrote some of the dialogue for her scenes!
What I appreciate the most about the first part of this scene is how lived-in the desk space looks. I don't know if they actually used a film archives as the location, but there's an accuracy to the clutter, the pinned notes and reminders on cork board, and the general placement of props that lends some authenticity. Like you can imagine there's an active job happening even if Bianca is currently doing her nails behind the desk. Maybe she's on break!
Anyway, Gale informs Bianca that she's working with the police on the recent string of murders that've happened at the studio and she needs information on Maureen Prescott (née Roberts) who, once upon a time, was an actress. Bianca flat out says "No" to the request as she lights up a cigarette and tells Gale, "I don't work for the cops, sweetie, I work for the studio."
First of all, yes, well done Bianca. The police, both the band and the law enforcement agency, and by extension Gale, aren't entitled to information without a warrant or some kind of studio credentials/permission. It's not just scripts and reels of film that are stored in the archives. Studio personnel deserve the right to privacy regarding their personal information that needs to be adhered to and often falls on the archivist to enforce. Secondly, no, Bianca, put that damn cigarette out! Or at least go outside! If you know anything about my feelings towards Gandalf the Grey and his awful habits while in the Gondorian archives, then you'll understand why the archivist of a film studio indulging her nicotine habit within breathing distance of the stuff she's supposed to be preserving is a big ol' red flag.
Then again, it's just as likely to be another way of showing her indifference but also bitterness towards her job. She's not Carrie Fisher, she didn't get the role of Princess Leia, and now she's a middle aged woman working in a basement surrounded by reminders of her failure to become a Hollywood star. Damn.
But that's still not an excuse for smoking in the archives! Take that shit to your therapist!
Undeterred in her quest for information, Gale offers Bianca a hefty bribe of fifty whole dollars that gets the unimpressed look it deserves. Disgusted by the pittance of an offer, Jennifer places one of her rings on Bianca's desk. It's worth $2000.
Cut to inside the archives as Bianca searches through a filing cabinet. While Gale is looking for information on Maureen Roberts, Bianca recognizes the face as that of Rina Reynolds, pulling her old CV. There are only three films listed, all of them 70s horror films produced by John Milton who just so happens to be the producer for the Stab movies.
Once again we have pluses and minuses. I can't condone the bribing of archivists for information. It's a slippery slope, ethically speaking; one you'll have to contend with if you engage in such activities. Within the context of Scream 3, it lends further credence to Bianca's general outlook on her career and where she fits within the studio system. She won't help the cops because she works for the studio...unless the price is right. Because everyone has a price and anyone can be bought. Now, maybe, if Gale hadn't come in with the less-than-polite air of superiority she's known for and, maybe, if they hadn't brought up the Carrie Fisher thing Bianca would've been in a more helpful mood. But we don't live in that world.
I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying I get it.
What redeems the bribery, for me, is the scene that follows. Without Bianca, there are key pieces of information missing. She has a respect for unknown actresses, being one herself, so she's able to recognize Rina Reynolds and put together that its Maureen Roberts' stage name. She even knows Jennifer Jolie's real name, Judy Jurgenstern. As Gale goes over the list of films Rina appeared in, Bianca casually talks about the Milton era of horror films as if its common knowledge. It isn't, so it becomes an example of Bianca's institutional knowledge serving as an invaluable resource.
On TV Tropes there was an interesting category under the trivia section called Technology Marches On that posits how the archives scene would've gone differently if the film had been set in the 2010s. The section reads:
Carrie Fisher's role as the studio archivist who has to help Jennifer and Gale search for Maureen's obscure records would be quite different in The New '10s. Gale could probably dig up lots of information on Maureen through a simple Google search. IMDB [Internet Movie Database] would likely have most of the information she needed (assuming that someone entered in Maureen's film credits, and her knowing that Rina Reynolds was Maureen's stage name, as well as knowing the three films she appeared in).
There are a lot of assumptions made in the above statement, which the note also acknowledges. A few things need to have taken place before Gale can run that "quick Google search":
The films she appeared in would need to be accessible to watch, either online or on VHS/DVD, to have a visual reference for Rina Reynolds as well as credits for herself and John Milton as the producer.
We'd also have to assume the films were popular and profitable enough to be released in the first place. Or there are bootleg copies drifting around college campuses of questionable quality.
If Sunrise Studio actually took the time to digitize archival materials, there's no guarantee that Maureen's head shot would've been prioritized or made publicly accessible unless the studio archivist was doing an exhibit or some form of outreach. Even then, permissions would need to be secured before a head shot could be on display.
Because she went under a stage name, connecting Rina Reynolds and Maureen Prescott would require a lot of personal knowledge that wouldn't be generally available. And that's only if Maureen shared the information willingly.
Honestly, I think if Scream 3 was set in the 2010s the archives scene still would've gone down the same way it did in the movie. Bianca's ability to bring the supposedly disparate threads together requires institutional and industry knowledge that Gale doesn't possess. I don't care how good of an investigator she is, Gale would've ended up at the studio archives regardless of the technological advances.